The Triumph of Democracy?
"Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." So said Winston Churchill in November 1947, a time when Soviet Communism was beginning to offer the world a new alternative.
What a bad week to test this idea.
In the United States: A dispute between Donald Trump and the Democratic leadership in Congress over the president's promised border wall has forced a shutdown of parts of the federal government, leaving 800,000 public sector workers without salaries for the past 28 days. It's now the longest shutdown in US history.
But despite the well-publicized problems the shutdown has created, Americans themselves aren't demanding compromise. A Pew Research poll published this week found that 72 percent of self-described Republicans say Trump should not sign legislation to end this standoff until Democrats provide funding for the wall, and 88 percent of Democrats say he shouldn't get a dime for this project. The shutdown grinds on, and the unpopular president and even more unpopular Congress refuse to budge.
Some of Trump's supporters say he is the target of partisan attacks by so-called Deep State agents within ferrel law enforcement and the bureaucracy. The president has described the media as the "enemy of the people," and Trump felt compelled this week to publicly deny that he's a Russian agent.
This is not a good moment to claim that American democracy is the envy of the world. And President Trump may well be refused the highest-profile platform on which to do just that – with news this week that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is planning to delay the State of the Union address until the government shutdown is brought to a close.
In Britain: The House of Commons voted this week to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan. The defeat came by the widest margin that institution has seen in 95 years. An opposition-led bid to force early elections failed, and the government remains in place.
In short, Britons voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but it's possible there is no single Brexit plan that can gain majority support from parliament. Nor is there any guarantee that a second Brexit referendum would produce a different result than the first.
Thus, on the single most important question the United Kingdom has faced in many decades, democracy has led the nation into an angry stalemate. Citizens of that country are no closer to resolution than they were the day after the referendum, and they're left to doubt whether their elected leaders can accomplish anything.
The bigger picture: For the past several years, voters in some of the world's wealthiest democracies have used elections to deliver a clear message: "Our government is not meeting our needs." But the dysfunction on display this week in the United States and United Kingdom have reached new heights of absurdity.